If it feels like those Hallmark Christmas movies are always on, you aren’t all that wrong. This year, Hallmark’s annual holiday programming "Countdown to Christmas" began on Oct. 28, days before trick-or-treaters made their rounds. If you want someone to blame for this two-month-plus Christmas movie marathon, you can blame the viewers, who begin watching holiday movies while the Halloween decorations are still up and don’t turn them off until after New Year’s.
Not one to disappoint its audience, Hallmark will release a record 36 original holiday movies this year. That’s up from the six holiday movies it made in 2010. These movies might not be instant classics, but they check off all the requirements for a holiday movie — they have snow, romance and a happy ending.
The Hallmark Channel has spent decades perfecting its formula and has turned Christmas movies into a major source of revenue for the network. Let’s do the numbers on how it got there.
Why Hallmark leaned into Christmas
Hallmark’s holiday programming did not always span two months. But after the network realized that its audience really enjoyed holiday themed movies, it decided to capitalize on it, according to Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming and network program publicity at Crown. Hallmark has made more than 150 Christmas movies since 2008.
"We did look at what '25 Days of Christmas' had become in people's minds and said, 'Wait a minute. We have a brand and a 100-year legacy. We should lean into that as much as we can and do more of it,’" she told Business Insider last year. The strategy worked. "People started to say things to us, like, 'I turn it on right after Halloween and don’t turn it off until New Year's,’" added Vicary.
Hallmark now hopes that it can get its viewers to stick with it past the New Year's celebrations. Last year, in addition to "Countdown to Christmas," Hallmark premiered its "Winterfest" programming, which consisted of four new movies, each of which aired on a different Saturday in January. Rather than being centered on the holidays, "Winterfest" movies are winter-themed — think romance movies with a lot of snow but fewer presents and Christmas trees.
Not afraid of Netflix
Back in 2015, Fortune asked Vicary the question that haunts every cable executive: What about Netflix?
“Airing original holiday movies every Saturday and Sunday through the season gives us an advantage, and our holiday movies become holiday traditions in viewers’ homes,” Vicary said at the time. “There are movies that people ask to see over and over.”
Last year, Netflix produced two original Christmas movies — “A Christmas Prince,” which inspired many a tweet storm and “Christmas Inheritance.” This year, Netflix is rolling out even more holiday movies, including “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding,” “The Holiday Calendar” and “The Christmas Chronicles,” starring Kurt Russell as Santa Claus.
However, with an archive full of movies and 36 brand new movies of its own, Hallmark does not seem to be too worried.
Hallmark holiday movies rake in viewers ... and cash
The first weekend kickoff for "Countdown to Christmas" drew 17.6 million viewers in 2017 — up from 15.2 million in 2016. According to AdWeek, that November Hallmark was the most-watched cable network among 18- to 49-year-old and 25- to 54-year-old women. Hallmark told CNN that more than 72 million people tuned in to watch "Countdown to Christmas" last year.
Those viewers translate into a lot of advertising revenue. Christmas programming from Hallmark’s "Countdown to Christmas" and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries account for one-third of the company’s annual ad revenue, according to AdWeek. Last year, the Hallmark Channel was expected to bring in about $390 million in ad revenue and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries another $146 million, according to estimates by S&P Global Market Intelligence. That’s also not accounting for other revenue such as licensing and streaming fees.
Business Insider estimates that on average Hallmark holiday movies only cost about $2 million to produce. While that’s not an insignificant amount of money, it is a fraction of what some companies spend on one episode of a TV show. For example, HBO spends anywhere from $10 million to $15 million per episode of “Game of Thrones.” Netflix spends about $8 million per episode of “Stranger Things” and $10 million per episode of “The Crown,” according to Variety. Low production costs and high viewership are what network executives’ dreams are made of.
Christmas movies: A boost for the economy?
Laugh all you want about the cheesy dialogue and implausible plot lines, but these movies are actually good for the economy, according to David Anselmo, CEO of Hideaway Pictures. The company has produced several Hallmark movies that were filmed in Canada, where Hideaway is based. He estimates that each movie spends about $1.2 million to $1.5 million in the local economy and employs an average of 70 local crew members, 10 actors and 200 to 300 extras.
These movies take about three weeks to shoot, according to Business Insider. During that time, the crew stays at nearby hotels and eats at local restaurants, boosting the local economy.
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